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Tunnel Trouble: Contractor asks for $125M from state for Bertha stoppage

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berthaSEATTLE — Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor behind the troubled tunnel project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, filed a $125 million bill with the state because of the Bertha work stoppage, the Washington State Department of Transportation confirmed Tuesday.

“WSDOT received a $125 million request from Seattle Tunnel Partners for the stoppage,” the department said. “WSDOT has denied that request.

“WSDOT and STP will use processes laid out in the contract to determine the next steps and who is responsible for costs associated with the stoppage,” the statement said. “We have seen no evidence that suggests WSDOT or taxpayers will be responsible for costs associated with the current delay.”


John McAllister runs Argen Safe and Lock at Alaskan Way and South Main Street — just a stone’s throw away from the tunnel construction site.

Like a lot of business owners, he’s frustrated with the tunnel project and word of a new delay — until March 2015 — doesn’t sit well.

“Just more hectic, because sometimes they’re doing construction they close the street so you can’t get to work. People can’t come to your business. There’s noise, It’s frustrating in that regard,” McAllister said.

On Monday, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the contractor for the tunnel project meant to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct,  announced that the tunnel- digging machine known as Bertha will sit idle until next March — late March.

Fixing the huge boring machine is proving more difficult than most expected.

“The main thing we want to do is get the machine in tip-top, 100 percent condition so that we don’t ever have a repeat of this event for the balance of the tunneling,” STP’s Chris Dixon said.

Crews first have to dig an access pit just to reach Bertha’s cutter head. Then they will replace the machine’s main bearing and install a more robust seal system, which could include strengthening the seals, installing redundant systems, and adding monitoring equipment.

“We are disappointed as I’m sure some of the public in the delays associated with that,” said Todd Trepanier, program administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

WSDOT got the bad news late last week.

Since Bertha hasn’t operated for several months already, it will be at least a 16-month delay in the project. But the contractor believes they will eventually recover about four months of that lost time and get back on schedule — hopefully.

“We’re fairly confident we can beat that date. We do have some contingencies built into the schedule in the event that Hitachi finds more work that needs to be done when they disassemble the machine,” Dixon said.

Critics are not convinced and a big question looms.

“How much is this going to cost?” McAllister asked.

WSDOT says no matter what happens, taxpayers won’t be stuck with the bill.

“Remember, this is a fixed-priced contract and Seattle Tunnel Partners has the obligation to complete this tunnel and the project for the price that they bid. So, yeah, right now it would be the same cost as the taxpayers were expecting at the beginning of the project,” Trepanier of WSDOT said.

STP may not see it quite the same way.

Q13 FOX News tried to get comments from former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who fought against the tunnel option, and from Gov. Jay Inslee about potential cost overruns, but both chose not to comment Monday.


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  • john wagner

    yes you and all of the other news networks in Seattle has gotten that story wrong the longshoremen did not shut down birthday at all there was no trucks trying to cross our picket line down there when we were down there if you guys would get ahold of our local 19 and Askim Williams he could tell you the truth and the truth is birth was broke down before we ever went on strike down there and we didn’t go on strike we went on a informational packet then I’d like for you guys to get that story up there and tell the truth about it for a change thank you very much

  • guest

    please explain how, if they recover 4 months of a 16 month delay, they will be back on schedule? This can only make sense to politicians and morons. (same thing)

  • Barbara edwards

    We are already into it and to far into it. To turn back now. The one saving grace, is hopefully it can be completed before that above ground highway colapses killing alot of people. When its all done we wont remember all this heart ache. I feel sorry for all the businesses that are effected so severly.

  • guest

    we all know the taxpayers are going to get screwed for this in a big way, why do they keep pretending otherwise? and why isn't the manufacturer of this faulty machine being held responsible for this mess?

  • H Sweem

    Perhaps reporters could do their job and research the contract documents to see if indeed taxpayers are off the hook. I seriously doubt that the contractor didn't cover his behind if something like this happened. Please get to the bottom of who's responsible and report.

  • tired worker

    There is no guarantee that it won't find more fill that will stop it again and again. A new Viaduct would have been cheaper and almost done.

  • D.A. King

    The broken tool was provided by Hitachi. THEY need to repair it and pay for it! Seems to me that if the thing needs an overhaul (read the article) Hitachi knew it wasn't going to up to doing the job in the first place. Building a tunnel on the Seattle waterfront is dangerous. Too close to the water and it's sitting at the bottom of a landfill (the City of Seattle). What's wrong with the engineers in this state??? Oso was deemed safe too – any questions??????

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